One year on at GroupM: Clarity in the agency lineup, embracing Buchanan’s chaos and cautious optimism

A year into one of the biggest roles in the Australian advertising industry, CEO of GroupM Aimee Buchanan and her latest executive hire, Mindshare's Maria Grivas, join Calum Jaspan to chat about the future focus of Mindshare, reshaping the group after some big changes, transparency, a cautiously optimistic approach to 2023 and Christmas parties.

Onboarding in November 2021, Aimee Buchanan’s first year at GroupM has seen two agency mergers and a completely reshuffled executive leadership team.

“It’s been awesome,” she says on this week’s Mumbrellacast. “The way I’m saying it is there’s a lot to do, but we’re having a lot of fun doing it and I think a big part of that has been rebuilding the team.”

“I think with people such as Maria [Grivas] coming in, Scott Laird coming in, Pat [Crowley] stepping into the EssenceMediacom role, PV [Peter Vogel] holding the reins firmly on Wavemaker, it’s just been a cracking year to get to know that executive team and build the team.”

Grivas’ arrival is the most recent of those major changes, which has seen Buchanan’s fingerprints across the local operations of WPP’s buying arm, with Yaron Farizon also departing the market, and Nathan Young joining as chief growth officer.

She admits it was “really hard” to leave her post at OMD, a place she had an “absolute affinity with” over the decade she spent there, but her arrival was softened by the stability of the team she had around her, she adds.

“They just really welcomed not only me, but my sort of chaos of wanting to do things, change things and build things, and I think everyone’s embraced that and sort of assisted and gone on that journey, and that’s made the first year a lot easier than I think it would’ve been in a lot of other businesses and culture coming in.”

“Probably the bit that I was most anxious about was, would there be resistance? Would there be challenge? There’s always challenge in a new role, but I feel like it hasn’t been from people, it’s just been from trying to make the right decisions and do the right things.”

‘Probably the bit that I was most anxious about was, would there be resistance?’

New direction for Mindshare? 

You’re not always given the opportunity to learn on the job from the person you’re taking over from, but GroupM, and Grivas were nicely placed with Rigg-Smith staying close within the company as she transitioned into her group role at WPP.

“Stepping into a role of this magnitude and not having the guidance and proper handover of the predecessor would be a different kind of challenge,” says Grivas, “so having the stability of Katie’s leadership to really ensure that that handover is seamless has been amazing.”

Grivas’ background is digital-heavy, moving across from Mediabrands’ digital agency, with past roles as chief digital and technology officer at UM Australia and head of digital across all of Mediabrands.

With both Rigg-Smith and Buchanan certain she was the right choice throughout the hiring process, does this suggest the direction Mindshare is moving to as the group tries to delineate between its now-three agencies?

“I don’t think it’s necessarily reflective of the traditional mold of an agency CEO, and I think it’s important for where agencies need to evolve and diversify their capabilities to continue to offer a relevant and effective service for our clients.”

“There are many different ways to achieve growth,” Grivas says, “but in today’s climate, understanding that nexus of how growth is sustainable, how it’s enduring, and how you can look at growth from a diversified perspective is really what will drive effectiveness.”

Grivas adds this naturally requires new capabilities in order to accomplish that.

Grivas, not your traditional agency CEO pathway

“We talk about bringing that existence of a brand digitally into the centre of how we think about driving brand growth., and so our deep bench in SEO, our deep bench in affiliates, our deep bench in analytics and first-party data strategy really starts to enable that.”

And with her background, she says she can add plenty of value to how Mindshare catalyses those areas of capability to achieve that for clients, she says.

As for its other two agencies, Wavemaker continues to position itself “very much around positive provocation”, says Buchanan, “which is really reflected in how they are driving disruption either within the categories their clients operate in, or in finding new categories”.

This also continues under Vogel, who is the last remaining chief executive from prior to Buchanan’s arrival in the current agency setup.

Then for its third agency, which goes live officially on 1 January, being colloquially referred to as E&M, it “brings the richness of the digital capability that existed in Essence, built around Google globally, and marrying that with the scale and network of Mediacom, in a world that clients don’t need to pick between a specialist and a scaled proposition”.

Buchanan talks about the eras of advertising that have occurred over the last 20-30 years, and the move from a traditional to digital economy, then the merging of the two worlds, and how EssenceMediacom is built for the next era “to resolve and manage that”.

Built for the ‘next era’ says Buchanan

While Buchanan admits it was unexpected and that “I didn’t have it in my 90-day plan”, she says it was “definitely logical from a global point of view, and I think you can’t question that those two things together are strong”.

Locally, in particular, she says the agency has a deeply rooted culture coming from Ikon, “which we talk about as a pioneering spirit, and that’s really aligned with the Essence philosophy as well”.

“So that will be front and centre, that nature of finding new ways of pioneering that sort of we’ll give it a crack spirit, is going to be at the core of what we build here in Australia.”

Across the rest of the conversation, Grivas and Buchanan talk about the changing pathway to media agency executive roles, why pitching should be the last outcome for resolving issues with clients, being optimistic, while responsible and cautious about 2023, as well as acting as taking action to solve problems for clients, such as sustainability.

As for her old home, Buchanan says it has been “awesome” to see OMD continue to succeed under its new bosses, Sian Whitnall and Laura Nice after years under her stewardship.

“I’m thrilled for those guys, they’ve got exceptional talent, they’ve done an incredible job to get to where they are when I left, and they’ve continued to build on those foundations.”

Listen to the full interview below on the Mumbrellacast: 


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